Southwest is still taking this passenger under its wing


Two years ago, Southwest abandoned a takeoff from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, to remove Peggy Uhle from a flight.

She was completely on board with getting off.

Having just learned that her son, Michael, had gone into a coma from an accident, the crew had immediately arranged to divert her to his bedside, entirely at the airline’s own expense. Uhle never knew what happened until Southwest told her, after Michael’s father told them — cell phones were off.

Michael thankfully survived.

And so did her story.

Uhle recently checked back with us to share how Michael has improved since his serious head injury. The Good News Guy was honored to have originally shared her Southwest experience in 2015 (and again in 2016) after she contacted Elliott.org to do something many of us overlook in our grumpy society — praise instead of complain.

Compassion and good business are not mutually exclusive. And Southwest is no stranger to our columns as a good natured airline that will even reunite a forgotten library book with a passenger.

The retelling of Uhle’s experience by others still makes the social media rounds — so much so that Snopes verified it. She continues to appreciate Southwest not just because of how it went way above and beyond, but also because of what they still do.

“I think the world of Southwest, and we continue to use them for all of our flights — 15 this year,” Uhle said. “I still hear from the stewardess who was on that flight, and she recently arranged to have someone meet us at the Tampa air terminal to give Michael a few gifts including a ball cap and duffel bag.”

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Southwest could have easily rested on their two-year-old laurels on a positive note. But not this time.

“They still continue to be courteous and considerate when we travel, and even the TSA at one airport we frequent recognizes Michael with a warm greeting,” Uhle went on. “My son suffered a traumatic brain injury and continues to recover. He still travels in a wheelchair requiring extra assistance.”

Unless you have been living in the woods off the grid, ignoring bad airline behavior in the media would be difficult. And flyers wanting to make last-minute air travel changes without fees or penalties saturate our Forum at a time when seats are easily resold and airline profits are not hurting. Well, maybe they are for United. I wonder why?


This time, an airline removed a passenger for a good reason, and Southwest acted so quickly that Uhle never had a chance to even think about ticketing issues. And never needed to. The gate attendants had already booked her on a nonstop flight back home to Denver before her original flight returned to the gate, including luggage transfer, a private waiting area, priority boarding, and a meal — all without asking. They even checked on her and Michael repeatedly after she arrived at his bedside.

Wow.

Michael and his family still have a ways to go with recovery.

“He continues to get better and is fortunate to have one of the best rehab hospitals in the country,” added Uhle. “He relearned how to walk, talk and just about everything else while keeping his sense of humor and intelligence, and is still working hard at rehab with his family beside him. He was a college athlete, cyclist, snowboarder and an ‘all-in’ guy, well-liked by co-workers and friends. Life is not the same anymore, but we are so grateful, especially when we realize others with similar stories are not so fortunate.”

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Tissues all around at Elliott.org.

So, what is it about Southwest that makes it annoyingly difficult to find a reason to complain? Are they really that good? Maybe. Probably. I have had a couple of unsatisfactory past experiences among my positive ones, and so have others. But perfection is an elusive goal with any gargantuan operation having so many moving parts and millions of customers.

Southwest knows its continued consideration for Uhle and her son are not lost on a positive media presence at a time of airline backlash. But is the airline any less sincere or caring when their reps continue to exceed job descriptions long after the airline was ahead two years ago?

Perhaps it is its willingness to make the personal connection of intention and sincerely want to help, especially without being asked — or invest heavily in its employees as its primary asset. In the end, Southwest is still profitable for the right reasons as a business should be.

“Life can change in an instant, so enjoy your kids,” Uhle concluded. “You cannot live in fear nor pass it onto your kids. All three of my boys are pole vaulters and am surprised we didn’t go through something like this sooner!”

I could not have said it better.


Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

  • Steve Rabin

    If you want an explanation, read the book “Nuts”. It’s a bit dated now, but still explains the Southwest ethos. Basically, their idea is to treat their employees like gold, who then in turn treat their customers like gold. Not such a hard concept, is it?

    I really liked one story in there where an employee was complaining to another about his boss in the men’s room, not knowing his boss was in one of the stalls. Instead of getting angry, the boss took a look at himself and realized the employee was right–and proceeded to hold an award ceremony to this employee in the same men’s room!

  • greg watson

    That is the key…………..well trained, empathetic people make any business look good !

  • FQTVLR

    I have flown Southwest 4 times–two round trips to Philadelphia. My flights to Philadelphia went off without a hitch each time. However on both return trips my flights were cancelled because of anticipated weather problems. The first time it happened Southwest told me they could not put me on another flight for 2 days. I gave up at the airport and called Southwest to see if there were other options–connecting flights, etc. I was surprised to find out I could get on a later flight that day but would have to pay a $35.00 fare difference. It seems that they would only re-book me on flights that had the same fare class available as the one I booked rather than just put me on the next available flight. When this happened a second time–same reason for cancellation and had to pay to get on the next available Southwest flight or wait another day–I quit flying them. They had no explanation why they simply would not put me on the next available flight with empty seats. My experience has not been what others like so much.

  • Zarkov505

    Many years ago, my mother took a trip from Austin TX to the Northeast on Southwest. Mom was not exactly young, and not in the best of health, and the Southwest people took wonderful care of her. Dad wrote them a nice thank-you letter, and he got a “thank you for making our day” letter back.

    Which he dismissed, as normal PR response. Perfectly understandable.

    He showed me their reply letter. I read it, noted the signature.

    I had to explain to Dad that the guy who signed the letter, a fellow by the name of Herb Kelleher, was not some clerk in the PR department, but the Chairman, CEO, and President of Southwest Airlines.

  • Blamona

    We’ve created a world where people are entitled, half the country is divided, and everyone thinks they can write whatever they want on sites. Kudos to Southwest for being human, kudos to passengers for being grateful. I’m a fan for life

  • joycexyz

    When we flew to Houston a couple of years ago, Southwest put us on an earlier flight than the one we had booked. Our luggage, unfortunately, did not make that flight. We were staying quite far from the airport, so going back to retrieve the luggage (which was on the later flight) was not an option. The agent gave us each a $200 voucher, and the luggage was delivered to us the next morning. Above and beyond! My thoughts are–not only are the employees treated well, but they’re empowered to make decisions.

  • jsn55

    Herb was a genius: recruit the best, train and motivate them well, and empower them to do their jobs. Let ’em have a little fun at work. Put customer care at the top of the jobs list and you have a success story like SouthWest. This story warmed my heart back then, Andrew, and again today. Thanks again.

  • DChamp56

    I think Andrew Der needs his own website with just good news….!

  • Why, thank you!

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